How to give your Christmas ham a glow-up

Forget the big roast bird, the mince pies, figgy pudding and pigs in blankets… For our food team’s Pollyanna Coupland, Christmas isn’t complete without a burnished, glossy ham.  It offers abundant opportunity for festive feasting – not to mention between-meals snacking. Learn how to cook a showstopper ham with Pollyanna’s expert guide…

How to give your Christmas ham a glow-up

I absolutely LOVE ham. In my eyes it’s the unsung hero that sits back and lets the turkey take all the glory. But what’s always there in the background when you want a betwixtmas snack, a quick dinner or an emergency buffet for surprise guests? That’s right, it’s the big glazed ham: reliable, versatile and crowd-pleasing for days after it’s cooked.

This Christmas, let us tempt you to dress up your ham in the finest of riches; to adorn her in jewels of cranberry and studded cloves; to drape her in a glossy coat of pomegranate and fig glaze; and to wrap her up in a fabulous belt of bay and candied oranges. Let the glam ham steal the show!

Before we begin, here are a few things you need to consider in order to give this glorious piece of meat its due.

Choosing your gammon

There are a few decisions to be made here: bone-in or boneless? Dry-cured or brined? Does the meat need to be smoked? Do I need to soak it first? Here’s what I like to order – and why.

First, a quick lesson on cookery semantics: gammon is the name given to cured or brined pork leg. Only once it’s cooked does it become ‘ham’. Depending on the cure or brine used, you may need to soak the gammon for a few hours or overnight to remove excess salt, so do ask your butcher to advise on this (or check the pack instructions).

If you want a big showstopping ham, I’d advise getting one with the bone still in. You probably won’t have a pan big enough to boil it in, so you’ll need to roast it for a long time (roasting on the bone helps keep the meat moist). You can keep the bone afterwards to make an amazing stock. If you’re getting a smaller piece of gammon (to serve around 4 people), I’d boil it before roasting and glazing for maximum juiciness.

Whether you go for smoked or unsmoked is down to personal preference; for the record, I choose smoked every time. More flavour is a good thing in my book and the acidity in the glaze cuts through the smoked flavour exquisitely.

“I like to get the largest ham I can find/afford and roast it on Christmas Eve, filling the house with delicious smells while we do all the last-minute tasks for the big day"

An amazing glaze

My favourite way to do a Christmas ham is to buy big and glaze fruity. Fruit gives natural sweetness to balance out the salty meat. Jams and compotes are brilliant to play with as they already contain the fruit and sugar required; a generous brushing of apricot jam on a roasted ham is a beautiful and simple thing.

I’ve experimented with glazes over the years, from traditional brown sugar and mustard to a festive marmalade and clove, to an experimental (and rather successful) rhubarb glaze. This year, however, I’ve gone for a perfectly balanced fruity trio: zesty marmalade, sticky fig conserve and tart-and tangy pomegranate molasses.

Diamonds are a ham’s best friend

While decoration isn’t strictly necessary, a ham is a mighty centrepiece – and if you can’t adorn it with Fabergé-inspired jewelling at Christmas, when can you?

The criss-crossed scoring of the fat on top of a ham is beautiful, but it also helps the fat to render evenly. For optimum precision use a ruler to make sure your diamonds are equal. It’s a good idea to stud the diamonds with cloves, too, as it not only looks pretty but also imbues the fat with festive, aromatic flavour. If you want to add more decorations such as bay leaves, cranberries or cherries, halved cocktail sticks work well as a securing device (just make sure the sticks don’t end up on people’s plates).

A close-in view of crispy ham skin with fruits and bay leaves
Score the ham’s skin, slather with sticky glaze and adorn with bay leaves and fruits


Now for the cooking…

The big one Roast a large gammon, uncovered, in the oven at 170°C fan/gas 5 for 45 minutes per kilogram. Cooking with the skin on protects the meat from drying out. Once cooked, carefully slice off the tough rind, leaving as much fat attached to the meat as possible.

Score the fat and stud with cloves as described above, then brush over your chosen glaze and return the joint to the oven for 30 minutes, brushing with more glaze every 10 minutes

The mini If you’re cooking a smaller gammon, it’s a good idea to boil it before glazing. Cover with water and simmer for 20 minutes per 450g meat, plus an extra 20 minutes. Once boiled, score, stud and glaze, then give the ham 30 minutes in the oven at 170°C fan/gas 5 to render the fat. You can boil the gammon in a simple stock of water with onion, carrot and some thyme, or be more adventurous – as a student I was inspired by Nigella Lawson’s famous Coca-Cola boiled ham and tried a tropical version with Lilt. It worked surprisingly well.

How to use your ham

Christmas Eve I get the largest ham I can find/afford and roast it on Christmas Eve, filling the house with delicious smells while we do all the last-minute tasks for the big day. This means it’s ready for Christmas Eve dinner – my first (and possibly favourite) ham-based meal of the festive period: ham and eggs, with chips from the local chippy. Finely sliced and still warm with a perfect layer of sweet and sticky rendered fat, it’s perfection.

Christmas Day Next comes the evening after the big feast and the “I’m absolutely stuffed, I’m not eating for a whole year, oh… but if you’re making one, I’ll have one” ham sandwich, stuffed with any and every leftover side and slathered with gravy.

Boxing Day It’s essential you have enough ham saved for the Boxing Day buffet. It’s a ploughman’s-meetsSwedish spread in our household, so there are pickled herring, boiled eggs and lingonberry jam as well as the usual cheeses and chutney.

The 12 Days of Christmas If there are leftovers, it’s time to get creative. Dice up the ham and put it in potato salad; add it to a pie with mushrooms and tarragon; or shred it into a magnificent salad of grains, lots of herbs and slices of blood orange. And if you still have some ham to get through, you can always put it in the freezer (it freezes brilliantly).

Looking for more ham-spiration? Check out all our Christmas ham recipes. Plus, lots more ideas for your Boxing Day buffet and festive leftovers.

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